7 Important Fire Safety Tips for Landlords

Whenever a landlord leases a property to a new tenant, there’s a whole checklist to go through before the moving day.  Some landlords just find a printable checklist online and go through the process. Others just patch the walls, mop the floors and hand over the keys.

Unfortunately, fire safety and prevention is sometimes a landlord’s afterthought.  But fires occur every week across Canada. According to Statistics Canada, over 100 Canadians die each year from residential fires.  In some cases, fire safety negligence can land the landlord in legal trouble.

Given the potential legal risks associated with fire safety, it doesn’t make sense to leave this issue to chance.

In this article, we’ll explain every landlord’s fire safety responsibilities, where to find the relevant information and go over 7 tips that can help prevent fire damages, injuries or deaths.

What Are a Landlord’s Responsibilities When It Comes to Fire Safety?

In September 2018, two Ontario landlords were charged with negligence when a fire in one of their properties killed a tenant.  The landlords were held liable because there were no operational smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors or fire extinguishers inside.

The incident highlights the fact that there are specific fire safety requirements landlords must meet.  For the most part, these are straightforward:

  • Have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in specific areas of the property
  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at specific times of the year
  • Have at least two emergency exits per dwelling
  • Provide fire safety information to your tenants
  • Respond to fire safety-related issues when communicated by tenants

Province-Specific Fire Safety Information for Landlords

Each province has additional requirements landlords must meet.  For example, in Manitoba, landlords must keep a log of smoke alarm testing.  Landlords should familiarize themselves with their specific laws, regulations and obligations by contacting their local fire station.  Note that municipalities may also have additional requirements which is why the information in this article is for informational purposes.

Fire Safety Tips Every Landlord Can Implement

Regardless of where in Canada your rental is located, there’s a number of things you can do to promote fire safety and prevent accidents.

#1: Show Your Tenants the Fire Safety Risks of Your Rental

On moving day, show your tenant the basic fire safety precautions you implemented in your rental.  These includes:

  • Showing the main emergency exits
  • Asking the tenant to keep the emergency exits clear
  • Explaining where the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are
  • Asking the tenant to test these alarms monthly
  • Showing where the fire extinguishers are
  • Reminding the tenant of his or her obligations to report fire safety issues to you when they come up

#2: Fulfil Provincial and Municipal Fire Safety Requirements

Prior to renting out a unit, landlords should contact their local fire safety professionals.  Some municipalities can even send a qualified professional to the property for an inspection and consultation.  This is a great way for landlords to get free advice tailored to their specific units.

#3: Check All Smoke Detectors Every Time You Enter the Unit

Whenever you enter the rental, regardless of the reason, take a few moments to test the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Landlords should keep a log of the dates they tested the alarms.  Although it’s not a requirement in every province, it can come in handy if ever the landlord is brought to court over fire safety issues.

If one of the alarms isn’t functional, put in new batteries or replace the alarm as soon as possible.  If the replacement or repair will take more than a few hours, advise the tenant.

#4: Leave a Fire Extinguisher in the Kitchen for the Tenants

According to the Red Cross, most residential fires start in the kitchen.  That’s why every landlord should leave a functioning and easy to use fire extinguisher in their tenant’s kitchen.

A basic fire extinguisher can be purchased in any hardware store.  Most models are small enough to fit under the kitchen or in the food pantry.  Given that they have expiration dates, landlords should get extinguishers checked at a nearby fire station.  It’s free and if there’s a problem with the unit, some fire departments offer free replacements.

#5: Check If Emergency Exits Are Clear After Move-In

Sometimes when tenants move in, items or furniture that were brought from the previous rental may not fit in the new one.  When this happens, some tenants stack these objects near exits. Unfortunately, blocked emergency exits are a leading cause of fire deaths in Canada.

Once your tenant has settled in, call to make sure at least two of the emergency exits are clear.  If you’re in the area and your tenant is informed, you can conduct this visual check yourself.

#6: Ensure Heat Sources Aren’t Easily Accessible

If your rental uses baseboard heaters, ensure that the heating elements can’t easily come into contact with foreign objects.  Fabrics such as clothing or curtains can catch on fire if they touch these elements.

Most modern baseboard heaters are fully covered units.  However, older baseboards sometimes have covers which expose the heating elements.  Depending on the circumstances of your rental and where the heater is located, it may be more prudent to replace older baseboard heaters with a more modern (and safe) design.

#7: Clean Fireplaces, Chimneys and Stoves

Rentals that include wood fireplaces or stoves are at greater risk of fire damages.

Remind your tenant to keep the doors to the fireplace or stove closed at all times and to never leave a fire unattended.

Chimney flutes can build up a residue called creosote.  If a chimney flute builds up too much creosote, it can create an explosive fire hazard.  It’s therefore a good idea to pay for a chimney cleaning every few years if the tenant uses the fireplace or stove.

Wrapping This Up

Neglecting fire safety can place a landlord at legal risk.  Luckily, landlords can minimize this risk by informing themselves and taking action.  Remember to check with your local fire professionals and implement common sense tricks to help reduce the risk of fire damage to your property and injury or death to your tenants.

Glenn Carter

Glenn is a real estate writer and investor. Getting his start in single-family home and condo investing, Glenn has since moved on to multi-family investing in the Ottawa area. As a side hustle to his real estate investing, Glenn loves writing about his experience as a landlord overseeing his rental properties and has been featured on VentureBeat, BiggerPockets, Get Paid For Your Pad, and Breakthrough Real Estate Podcast.